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Federal agriculture minister visits Sunshine Coast’s One Tiny Farm

At the invitation of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP Patrick Weiler, Marie-Claude Bibeau heard the challenges and opportunities of local food security from One Straw Society.

Between funding announcements, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau made her first trip to B.C.’s Sunshine Coast on May 24.

As young employees tended to One Tiny Farm’s crops and new Tool Library (opening soon) in the heart of Roberts Creek, Bibeau met with One Straw Society at the invitation of Patrick Weiler, the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country Member of Parliament.

Weiler said he was pleased Bibeau came to visit the Sunshine Coast (becoming one of the few federal ministers to do so) to see the collaborative efforts of One Straw Society. When asked what he hopes Bibeau will learn from her trip, Weiler said, that farming is done differently across the country and he hoped Bibeau would “get a really good sense of what some of the challenges are on the Sunshine Coast, but also what some of the opportunities are” as well as what can be learned from or applied to the area when looking at nationwide policies.

Cassandra Fletcher and Chris Hergesheimer of One Straw Society gave the two politicians a tour of the farm and told them about upcoming community-based initiatives that are in the works. “Soup Stories” is a multi-generational event series launching in the fall (see that hopes to bring people together over food.

A multi-generational approach to food systems is important, Bibeau said, pointing out that Statistics Canada’s new census showed the average age of a farmer in Canada is 56. Creating opportunities for younger generations to get into agriculture with less risk, and recognizing that there are many kinds of jobs in agriculture is important as well.

Fletcher says innovation and creative thinking is needed to create food resilient communities, as the current method of relying on private landowners with financial backing “is a bit of an archaic mindset.

“It's the same thing that's gotten us into a rental crisis, whereby we're relying on individual property owners in a really volatile economy. And I think that's really dangerous,” Fletcher said. “So I hope she takes back from this little seeds of ideas around how we can create more community-based agriculture, like farm commons… to actually allow a launch pad and avenue for young people to truly get involved in agriculture, because I don't think a lot of the initiatives thus far, whereby they're providing interest-free loans … really make much of a dent when a five-acre property is $2 million. I don't know how much cabbage you can grow to pay that off, but it's just not viable.”

Bibeau told Coast Reporter what she saw and heard at One Tiny Farm was “impressive.”

“We are looking for new opportunities to interest youth in agriculture. We know there are many challenges,” Bibeau said. “They have found innovative ideas to get them interested, but also maybe to give them some of the first steps into it. So they can be in a better position afterward, maybe to continue a career in agriculture as well.”

One program Bibeau said the Sunshine Coast could apply for is the Local Food Infrastructure Fund, which allows food banks and other organizations to buy equipment that helps sustain the local food system. Earlier that day, Bibeau announced a more than $15.2 million investment under the Agricultural Clean Technology Program, supporting research and innovation. On May 25, she was scheduled to announce more funding, this time for federal investments in local food systems. 

Fletcher said she was grateful for the minister’s visit and thanked Weiler for inviting her. 

“I think that there's always a lot of focus on the urban communities, and when it comes to rural communities, in particular, ones like ours where we're isolated by ferry — that's Haida Gwaii, the Gulf Islands, even Vancouver Island somewhat — it's a completely different thing. You're dealing with a lot of barriers and dynamics that are prohibitive for being truly food secure,” Fletcher said.

One Tiny Farm is a good representation of what One Straw hopes Bibeau will take away from her visit, Hergesheimer said: the multi-functionality, multiple generations, food hubs as a community space, “and just the way those systems can really work together through collaboration. 

“By helping other organizations and other groups locate their operations within this place, I think it's a bit of a microcosm of the way we'd like the minister and others to see the way we see a future for agriculture on the Sunshine Coast,” he said. 

“There's a lot of positive energy despite what we've come through in the last two years — maybe in spite of or because of — and the future looks really bright for us here both at the Tiny Farm, in the organization, and on the Coast.”